The question of how it does in low light is commonly asked when a new action camera is launched. It’s a common question with all cameras. However, devices with small sensors will struggle in low-light conditions. This is compounded by electronic stabilization systems now available on the most recent models. First, we must define low light and determine what conditions we need for photography.
Low-light photography is problematic because you need to aim for the best lighting. What if this is not possible? You can use your action camera in all kinds of lighting conditions, including dark forests while mountain biking, shadowy canyons while whitewater kayaking, or even as a car dash cam at night. As you can see, low-light usage cannot be avoided.
Let’s now look at some of the limitations of action cameras and traditional methods to overcome low-light issues. Next, we will examine your special considerations when using a modern action cam.
The ISO setting can be increased to make your camera work in low lighting. This is possible with modern cinema and mirrorless cameras with dual base ISO. Modern large sensor cameras can operate in shallow light conditions and produce minimal noise. This option is not available on tiny sensor action cameras. We want to avoid high ISO settings whenever possible.
A traditional way to reduce low-light photography is to slow down the shutter speed. This allows for a more prolonged exposure, which lets more light in. This will enable you to use a lower ISO setting, which results in less noise but more blur. Because the electronic stabilization system pans around the sensor area, so modern action cameras can produce odd results with low shutter speeds. Camera shake can cause motion blur in the image. This makes the stabilization system appear to be at fault. However, this is different. The stabilization can’t eliminate motion blur as the camera moves. The stabilization systems for action cameras must operate at a shutter speed of at minimum 1/240th to be effective.
Low sharpness settings are a benefit I have already discussed, but they are even more crucial in low light. Sharpness settings that are too high emphasize noise and make it more difficult to compress the system. Keep them low.
What can we do if high ISO and low shutter settings are unavailable?
The best way to solve the problem of low-light filming with stabilization is to manually lower the ISO and shutter speed while maintaining good exposure. Mount the camera onto a small gimbal. Although this is an effective method to achieve low-light photography with stabilization, it may only be suitable for some.
The Insta360 cameras have noise removal software that is tuned to the cameras. This is one way to reduce noise using high ISO on any Insta360 model. Software like DaVinci Resolve Studio has extremely efficient noise removal systems.
You have a few more options if you own a GoPro HERO10. The HERO10 features a 3D noise reduction system. However, the camera must be set to the correct mode to use this feature. 3DNR is only compatible with 4K 30/24/25p and 1080p ways. It does not work in 5.3K or 4K/60+ ways. While 3DNR does not eliminate all noise, it is a better method than the standard. If you’re going to shoot in low light, ensure you use one of the modes listed above. Although 3DNR is not a miracle cure, it can make things easier.
The GoPro will increase the ISO levels in auto mode before it lowers the shutter speed. The camera is trying to maintain the HyperSmooth stabilization as best as possible, so the image will be noisier when the shutter speed is decreased.
You can quickly adjust your EV compensation to -1.5% if you’re riding a mountain bike and are going through dark and light areas that change frequently. This will make the camera prefer a faster shutter speed and lower ISO settings. Although this doesn’t eliminate HyperSmooth shake under all circumstances, it will work well for general cycling, and the underexposure needs to be more to render the image unusable.
Although different users may have opinions on the definition of excessive noise in an image’s quality, the newer GoPros are better at handling higher ISOs than older cameras. The HERO10 is capable of handling ISO1600 without making the image unusable. For cameras before the HERO9, it was recommended to set the maximum ISO to 800. However, for subsequent cameras, ISO1600 should be sufficient.
You have the same options as a gimbal if your camera is static and does not require stabilization. You can reduce the shutter speed or balance the ISO to be as low and smooth as possible.
Remember that all of the above applies to post-production stabilization. Post stabilization will not save the shot if your shutter speed drops below a specific setting.
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